Matt Hancock has insisted the UK is one of the world’s “most tolerant and open societies” after thousands of protesters took part in an anti-racism rally on Saturday.
The Health Secretary said there is “undoubtedly a risk” that coronavirus cases could increase following the protests, as he urged people not to gather in groups of more than six people amid further demonstrations.
Appearing on Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday – ahead of protests in London and other cities across the UK – Mr Hancock said he supported the activists’ arguments.
But the Health Secretary urged: “Please don’t gather in groups of more than six people because there is also a pandemic that we must address and control.
“And so we’ve got to make the argument, we’ve got to make further progress, on top of the significant progress that has been made in recent years, but we’ve got to do it in a way that’s safe and controls the virus.”
He added: “I think we’re one of the most tolerant and open societies in the world, but there’s always more that can and must be done – especially to empower people so that they can achieve their potential.”
Mr Hancock also said British police are “not like” their American counterparts while discussing Saturday’s protests, when a small group of demonstrators clashed with officers.
He told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: “I think the police did a fantastic job, and I’m very proud of the British police for their professionalism, their restraint in the face of the tiny amount of violence – and I would stress it was a very small amount of violence – later on in the day.
“And I think that we can all be proud that the British police are not like the American police in this way and I think that’s a very good thing.”
Meanwhile, shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said she is “proud” of the young people demanding change, while urging them to take precautions when they take part in protests during the coronavirus crisis.
“I’ve said repeatedly that it must be safe, people should social distance – please take precautions – but I’m very proud of those young people who are coming out and speaking up,” she told The Andrew Marr Show.
“Now I’m someone who has lived with racism in my life, I’ve seen it with my family, I’ve seen it in our country and I think it requires you to take an active stance against it.
We cannot be silent in the face of racism and discrimination. These protests must be the moment for recognition and positive change. pic.twitter.com/v3g5YUzHVx— Lisa Nandy (@lisanandy) June 7, 2020
“You cannot be silent in the face of racism and police brutality, and I think those young people are right to raise their voices and to demand change.”
Shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said there are pockets of “very deep-rooted racism” in the UK.
Asked if he believes the UK is a racist society, he told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge programme: “I wouldn’t say it’s the majority, but where it exists it’s very deep and whether that’s physically in some communities, whether that’s online in the way that many of our online platforms just don’t do anywhere near enough to police that effectively.
“It’s unavoidable to say that racism exists and in many places it’s been allowed to go on unchecked and so we do need to face up to that because if we don’t face up to it, we can’t put the measures in place to deal with it.”